Contemplation helps writing flourish in a noisy world
Being still and introspective among the chaos
When I was in college, I remember things being quiet. I often found myself doing focused reading and writing for hours without the distraction of notifications. I might be approaching grandma mode here, but we often forget those quiet hours that brought us a chance to contemplate the world. We listened to our internal dialogue, as we made connections with what we were reading on the page. We held our ear to the window as birds sang, and had illuminating thoughts about our existence.
Nowadays focusing on any creative project can be challenging, especially if you’re constantly checking social media or going down a rabbit hole of comedy sketch shows. Having a constant flow of information and visual input is not my ideal way of spending the day anymore, so I’ve been taking back my hours, changing my work space to be more whimsical, setting time limits, spreading tasks throughout the week, and prioritizing time to write above all the hullabaloo.
“You like to think about things and people for a long time and maybe that’s who you are and you need to accept that,” my sister said in a recent phone call. It struck me that I had been neglecting that part of me, the one that lets thoughts ruminate in her mind. We live in a culture that does not always reward contemplation, especially because it’s counter intuitive to a fast-paced environment. We are constantly being updated and asked to react, forced to make quick judgements for fear of being left behind, not always thinking about it too deeply. Sometimes it feels like we are nothing more than reactionary puppets hungry for information.
In his 2010 book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr, mentions how we have lost “not only the ability to engage in deep reading and attentive thought and contemplation, but also when we come across new information, the ability to bring it into our mind and put it into a broader context. That takes time. That takes attention. That takes focus.”
Having moments of contemplation allows you to make connections between you and the world around you. When you’re reading uninterrupted, you’re more likely to create meaningful dialogue between your own concepts and the ones on the page, thereby creating a private conversation. Equally so, when I find myself in nature — hiking or bird watching — being on my cell phone, taking photos or posting instagram stories in the moment, takes way from being attentive. When you are present, your mind brings to surface related moments or relevant information, connected to what you are experiencing. Creating an internal dialogue with yourself is a way to let spontaneous ideas and questions flourish, instead of being immersed in the culture of consumption and attention seeking, which can be repetitive.
It’s difficult to accept that the internet is changing our brain wiring in a negative way. After all, it has brought us limitless amounts of information to our fingertips and connected us to a global world. For me, creating meaningful art requires attentive thought and contemplation, but I also don’t want to retire to the woods just yet. Ultimately, I had to center myself in my craft, and build a process that valued a focused understanding of the world. For me, that’s building a routine that is guided by introspection rather than results.
My biggest issue when sitting down to write was distractions, like the never ending news cycle, funny videos, text messages, social media, and shopping online (worst one of them all). I engaged in these forms of distractions even when they gave me a headache from scrolling. Sometimes, I read the news, checked my email, twitter, and Instagram before writing, causing me to leave my writing for last. Even if they were short-lived distractions, they still took me away from a focused thought process and changed my mood, pointing me in another direction. It’s important to value your time, and where your attention is going. Acknowledging what took me way from creating and being thoughtful, has allowed me to be more intentional about how I spend my time online.